So if we’re talking about culture, let’s talk about culture. From Wikipedia:
“In the 20th century, ‘culture’ emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term ‘culture’ in American anthropology had two meanings: (1) the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and (2) the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. Hoebel describes culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.
Distinctions are currently made between the physical artifacts created by a society, its so-called material culture and everything else, the intangibles such as language, customs, etc. that are the main referent of the term ‘culture.’
What the hell does that mean? Just this:
Culture is what people do. What they wear. What they eat, what they say and the language in which they say it, how they cut their hair, the teams they cheer in their chosen sport, how they act toward each other, and toward outsiders. The books they read … if they read books. How they marry, how they have children, and what they teach those children. How they deal with death. Sometimes it includes such obscure things as where they vacation, and what they do there – or even the underclothes they wear, the sexual positions they allow each other!
And by the way, there’s an important point here: Religion itself is a subset of culture. If culture is the things people do and the way they do them, and religion is one of the things they do, religion is contained within culture. For most of us, religion is only a part of – by no means all of – our culture.
But culture is also the people themselves. It’s how they think of themselves, how they define themselves AS a people in the act of doing all their distinctive cultural things.
In a circular and self-referential way, the people within a specific culture are defined as a People by the culture they inhabit, and their culture is defined by the fact that they are within it, doing what they do.
Every New Yorker can recognize a Hasidic Jew (the ones with the long, curly side-locks). Hasidic Jews are the people who look and act like Hasidic Jews. But also, Hasidic Judaism is created by the acts of the people within it doing the things – dressing and acting and thinking certain ways – that Hasidic Jews do in order to identify themselves.
Likewise the Amish culture both defines and is defined by its people. Amish is not just Amish people, it’s what Amish people think and say and DO to be Amish.
Cultural stuff need not be written down. But it is passed along from person to person with a certain conservative definiteness. Culture preserves and propagates itself, or it passes out of existence. Hasidic Jews teach their children to be Hasidic Jews, Amish people teach their children to be Amish, and even, apparently, White Southern Ignoramuses teach their children to be White Southern Ignoramuses (here in the U.S., that is; and don’t go sniping at me about bringing them into this — I grew up among them, and I still know a few).
Here’s an example from my own life of both cultural propagation and the obvious benefit of culture:
I grew up in an East Texas rodeo cowboy culture, and I could have recognized one of “my people” in a crowd a hundred yards away. There’d be the hat, the jeans, the belt buckle, the boots, the shirt, the way the man (or woman) carried him-(her)-self. Somewhere nearby would be a mud-spattered pickup truck with a gun rack, possibly a horse trailer with a horse inside. Get closer to the guy and you’d pick up certain attitudes, certain specific interests, political and religious convictions, the way he sounded when he talked, and so much more.
There were the places we lived, what we did on Friday and Saturday nights (went to the Circle 8 Rodeo Arena, or one of a half dozen other rodeo grounds within a couple of hours’ drive) the stuff we talked about, the way men and men, and women and women, related to each other. The way men related to women, and vice versa (with a considerable amount of unabashed magnetic vigor on both sides, undeterred by literally skin-tight jeans). The things we ate and drank, and the things we didn’t (even today, don’t even try to suggest sushi to one of my people).
There were even the things we allowed – or didn’t allow – each other to do: I rolled up at a friend’s house one day in some soft comfortable shoes I’d just bought. I wasn’t out of my truck for two seconds before he looked incredulously down at my feet and asked “Where’d yew git them pimpy shoes?” In my culture of cowboy-boot wearers, I was not allowed to wear those shoes … not without a certain amount of unspoken threat of social ouster. I could be an accepted member of my cowboy culture, or I could wear those shoes, but not both.
As to the benefits of culture: By walking the walk and talking the talk – and wearing the right footwear! – I could be guaranteed a certain measure of instant acceptance anywhere in the country my people live. And so I was, in Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, and even to some extent here in New York. Moreover, by being emphatically ourselves, my cowboy culture people have an undeniable place in the world.
That bit about acceptance — both among ourselves and in the larger world — is one of the many things I want with Beta Culture. I envision a worldwide family of atheists and rationalists, looking out for our own interests by growing a safe, friendly place for people like us to live, to work, to learn, to socialize, to enjoy the freedom to be ourselves.
Most especially, I want our own avenue into the future – a future we have some say in creating, and in which we have an undeniable place.
One of the first questions that probably comes up in your mind is “Why do we need this Beta Culture thing? As far as having our own place in the world, aren’t we already there, or at least getting there?”
After all, we’re making progress, we’re free to be atheists in public now, right? There are all sorts of books on the subject, sold right out in the open, and we even have conventions now, too many to go to, in North America and Europe. These days, nobody has to listen to the Pope, or go to church. And from all reports, people are flocking from organized religion in droves.
But let me tell you what I think we’re facing: A future that looks especially dark, with no real social mechanism for stopping it.
[ Continued in Beta Culture Intro Part 4 ]